The State of Texas v. Adrian Lewis Peterson ended on November 4th, 2014 when the superstar NFL running back accepted a plea agreement with prosecutors in Montgomery County, Texas.
The plea agreement may have been the best ending Peterson, charged in August for disciplining his four-year-old child with a “switch,” could have hoped for. By pleading no contest, Peterson saw felony charges reduced to misdemeanor charges (reckless assault) and sidestepped possible jail time in the process.
More importantly, Peterson seemingly put himself in position to get back on the field before the end of the 2014 season.
But just as Peterson’s case in Texas ended, another began 1,600 miles away. Though it may eventually get there, this case wasn’t in a courtroom. It was at NFL headquarters in New York City. It was there on November 18 that embattled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made a swift unilateral decision, suspending Peterson without pay for (at least) the remaining six games of the 2014 NFL season.
So what exactly does this mean for Adrian Peterson? When will we see him plow over defenders in the secondary once again? Here’s my attempt to address those two questions with six bigger ones.
Did Peterson have a hearing? What happened?
Nothing happened at the actual hearing on Friday, November 14, because Peterson didn’t show up. Similarly, Peterson rejected the league’s offer to hold the hearing the next day on Saturday, November 15.
The hearing was originally scheduled to determine whether Peterson would be removed from the “exempt-commissioner’s permission list,” a special player status available to teams in unusual circumstances. While on the list — which can be for an undetermined amount of time — a player continues to get paid but doesn’t take up a roster spot.
Peterson’s camp and the NFL Players Association maintain that when Peterson’s criminal matter was settled, the league had agreed to immediately remove Peterson from the list. Instead, the league kept Peterson on the list and set a “pre-discipline hearing” for November 14.
The NFLPA, which continues to push for collective bargaining on a new personal conduct policy, refused to participate in the hearing. So without the NFLPA’s participation, Peterson’s camp didn’t see how he could partake.
Thereafter, the NFLPA filed a grievance on behalf of Peterson asking for immediate reinstatement from the exempt list. The grievance was heard by a neutral arbitrator (over the phone) on November 17, and the next morning the league announced Peterson had been suspended for the remainder of the 2014 season. Peterson immediately appealed the suspension and hoped that if he got off the exempt list, he could be reinstated and play while his suspension was pending.
However, the arbitrator ruled that the league could keep him on the exempt list; preventing Peterson from being reinstated and effectively ending any hope that AP had of playing in 2014.
Just what kind of power does Roger Goodell have anyway?
To put it simply Roger Goodell is the Judge Dread of the NFL. He can dish out discipline at his choosing under the authority granted to him in Article 8.6 of the NFL Constitution and under certain sections of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”).
He even controls the appeals process for that suspension he gives out. Insane, right? Well the NFLPA agreed to it.
As Teddy KGB from Rounders would say, “Bad judgment.”
What is the basis for Goodell’s ruling?
Peterson was suspended without pay for six games (not including the nine he missed with pay before his suspension) under the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Recent modifications for discipline under the policy have created more severe penalties for players involved in domestic violence. Under the modification, a player can be suspended for six games for a first offense. Further, if aggravating circumstances are present, a player may be subjected to a higher level of discipline.
Goodell stated that several of those aggravating circumstances were present in Peterson’s case; including that the injury was inflicted on a child, that the injury was inflicted repeatedly, and that Peterson showed no meaningful remorse for his conduct.
How will Peterson’s appeal work?
Under Article 46 of the NFL CBA, “appeals of discipline for off-field conduct are heard and decided by the commissioner or his designee.” Goodell, who could have heard the appeal, instead designated former NFL executive Harold Henderson to resolve it on December 2. Peterson will appear with both outside counsel and NFLPA representatives.
His team will state their case, but all indications show that Peterson has about as much chance of winning his appeal as the 1-10 Raiders have of making the playoffs.
Once the appeal is upheld, the league wouldn’t even consider Peterson’s reinstatement before April 15, 2015. At that time Peterson could begin the process of trying to get back into Goodell’s good graces; and with enough progress, maybe suit up for 2015.
How will Ray Rice’s pending appeal affect Peterson’s appeal?
Former Ravens running back Ray Rice’s case has changed the way the NFL gives out discipline. Rice was suspended twice for the same conduct, stemming from a February 15 altercation in an Atlantic City elevator between him and his now-wife. The first suspension issued in July was only for two games, but after the now infamous surveillance video surfaced showing the incident in its entirety, Rice was suspended by the league indefinitely.
According to various sources the league’s appointed arbitrator, former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones is expected to rule on Rice’s appeal by the end of November and it seems likely that Rice will be reinstated.
If Rice is reinstated it’s not clear how Peterson’s suspension will be affected, but it does provide heavy ammunition for Peterson, or any future player, to demand an outside arbitrator to hear appeals on suspensions. It also may grant the NFLPA further validation to take away (some of) Goodell’s authority.
Can Adrian Peterson sue the NFL?
The problem with any lawsuit Peterson brings is two-fold: limited time and limited options. Assuming he exhausts all internal remedies and brings a lawsuit against the NFL, Peterson runs into his first problem. Unlike a criminal case, civil litigation can move at a snail’s pace because there is no right to a speedy trial.
That doesn’t bode well for a NFL running back about to turn 30.
One common strategy to get immediate relief would be for Peterson to get a temporary restraining order against the NFL. With a temporary restraining order, the Court commands the parties to maintain a certain state until further evidence can be heard at a preliminary injunction hearing.
Meaning, a court could prevent the NFL from enforcing Peterson’s suspension, or more likely, stop the NFL from keeping him on the exempt list. If the temporary restraining order is granted, then Peterson would buy himself a few weeks of playing until the Court could hear both sides at a preliminary injunction hearing.
Thereafter, Peterson would need to convince a federal judge to grant a preliminary injunction against the NFL. A preliminary injunction would essentially restrain the league from going ahead with a course of conduct until whatever case Peterson brought was completed.
However, there exists Peterson’s second problem: he has limited options. Even if his team felt there were grounds for litigation, any gain would be marginal at best. Peterson may be better served to cut his losses, take his suspension and get ready for 2015.
To do that Peterson must start publicly showing remorse for his actions and do what the NFL asks him to do. Maybe then Peterson could finally put The State of Texas v. Adrian Lewis Peterson behind him, and get back to where he belongs.
Not in a courtroom, but the end zone.
(Feature photo courtesy of Mike Morbeck)